Mark hiking in the Tian Shen mountains near Bishkek

As unlikely as it seemed at the start I really liked Bishkek. There’s nothing particularly interesting or exotic about the city, but I just really settled in nicely.

First off a quick preview. This is the first stop on a four-week trip through Central Asia, arranged around a two-week bicycle trip in Uzbekistan, and including a three-day stop in Istanbul on the way home. We’d scheduled the bike trip a couple months into the COVID lockdown when cabin fever was running high. Grasshopper Adventures – with whom we’ve done three bike trips previously – advertised this trip for September 2020 and we thought “Oh, that looks like fun. Let’s sign up, since COVID will surely be over by the fall!”

Obviously that didn’t work out and we kept postponing and postponing it, but finally we’re off. The plan is to add three other ‘Stans to the trip: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. I had previously been to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, but these are all four new countries for Mark.

The city is full of long parks along boulevards and square parks behind museums and trees and trees and trees

Now, back to Bishkek, the capital and major city of Kyrgyzstan. Again, there’s nothing great about it but it’s a very comfortable city. Lots of great parks, millions of trees (literally), easy to walk around, and – while we were here at least – perfect weather. Sunny with highs in the high 60s and low 70s. We found some excellent Georgian food which always helps.

As far as adventures, there were three highlights. First up was a day-hike in the mountains. Bishkek sits just north of a section of the Tian Shen mountains, and in late April at least they’re still snow-capped and beautiful. So we hired a driver to take us maybe 45 minutes out of the city and did a two-hour hike up into the mountains. Mark and I are both having some knee problems (mine temporary, his less so), so we didn’t want to go too high or too deep into the mountains but it was a beautiful little trek.

I was up in the mountains too

The second great adventure was the big local market. We’ve been to a bunch of these markets over the years (I’d even been to this one when I was on a work trip in Bishkek in 2005) but not a lot in recent years so it was fun to poke around the colors and smells and sounds of the local market.

Mark and one of the many friendly Kyrgi vendors

And finally I spent a couple hours one morning in the National Fine Arts Museum which was surprisingly interesting. Now, I have no reason to believe there was any particularly important art here, but it was a fun way to see how the Kyrgis see themselves. Lots and lots of paintings of peasants up in the mountains doing peasant things. You know, cows and hay and sheep and all that stuff. And then add to that the kind of Superman-esque quality of Soviet art, especially from the 1950s and ’60s and it was just a good way to spend a couple of hours.

From 1958 and titled “Help to the Collective Farm,” I love just how happy these kids are going to work in the farm. As a kid I spent a lot of hours working in our vegetable garden and I don’t ever remember being that happy about it.

The real highlight of Bishkek, though, when the weather is perfect is just to wander in the parks, find an empty bench, and sit and read. A very pleasant way to start our trip through the ‘Stans. Next up, Uzbekistan and the two-week bike trip.

Up in the mountains

A very strange sign at the beginning of the trail up into the mountains. An ant crossing? Carrying … something?

Mark in the mountains

The two of us on the hike

Bishkek has seemingly thousand (though perhaps only hundreds) of statues of great heroes riding off to battle

This statue of Lenin was once in a more prominent place but some years ago was moved behind the National Museum. Still pretty much in the middle of the city though.

Goose-stepping military in the changing of the guard outside the National Museum

Colorful dried fruits and nuts in the market

And bread!

A gorgeous rug in the National Museum

Oak Park was my favorite place to sit and read. In addition to all the trees and greenery it had a big collection of sculptures. This guy with his horse was my favorite.

Another piece of Soviet propaganda art as this young Kyrgi girl marches confidently toward the future, school books in hand

We went to Meat Point a few times. It was strange – excellent steaks, massive portions, really inexpensive … and almost completely empty except for us.

Oh, and Meat Point had nice shots of vodka at crazy low prices. This bull became a good friend of ours.

And finally, in the category of “You Think You’ve Seen Everything…” there was this note on the menu in a Georgian restaurant we quite liked: the price they would charge if you accidentally (or presumably even on purpose) broke a dish. We’ve been in a lot of restaurants in a lot of countries and never seen this one before!